Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thoughts On Mission Trip 2009 (Indianapolis, IN)

Just a collection of thoughts from our recent sojurn to Indianapolis, where 54 teens and adults spent a week ministering through three organizations (Shepherd Community, inner city day camp for impoverished kids; Third Phase, a women's shelter and food/clothing pantry; Rebuilding the Wall, inner city construction):
  • It was by far one of the hottest mission trip weeks we've ever experienced, and the work (especially at Rebuilding the Wall) was some of the toughest. And I never heard a complaint from any of the teenagers -- that's a miracle in and of itself!
  • Ministry can be both physical and relational, and quite often both intertwine (construction teens met a number of new people, while Shepherd folks would find themselves doing some physical tasks to help out).
  • For every one person who went on this trip to serve, at least three or four people were supporting them -- in prayer, financially, by preparing food, opening homes for showers, coordinating details, etc. Missions work is a HUGE chain of support, where everyone both serves and is served in turn.
  • As I said weeks before, we had Plan A for the trip, and God had Plan B. I hope we rolled with God's Plan B when it happened (and I think we did!).
  • Sleeping in a room with 26 teen boys can be scarier than any horror film.
  • Sometimes the best trips and events don't have to have high production values to be a huge success, just high relationship values.
  • I can honestly say this was the first mission trip that I enjoyed without hesitation from the beginning of planning unto the end. No depression, no major problems, and work that excited me instead of filling me with dread.
  • It is not up to us to triage people to help, sorting between the ones with the best personalities and most potential -- God wants us to love and help them all equally.
  • Even ministers can be ministered to!
  • Letting the teens run an impromptu worship service was a joy to behold... two and a half hours of singing, sharing, testifying and bonding. I think God was quite pleased with it.
  • This was easily worth four months of planning and details and last minute scrambles.
  • I want to curl up into a ball and sleep for six days straight. Maybe seven.
  • I had to throw out almost half of the ideas and programming I brought for the week, just due to a lack of time and being flexible with the schedule. It's frustrating that we didn't get around to all of it, but I'd rather be okay with cutting some than making everyone agitated by cramming it in when there wasn't room.
  • Small things -- like putting on a band-aid with a prayer written on it by an anonymous member -- can be the some of the most affecting.
  • I never expected it to be that hard to be apart from my son, even though I got to see him every other day or so. He really is part of my family.
  • A cool little God thing -- I had the teens write a short essay on Luke 10:1-24 about Jesus sending his disciples out on a mission trip, and during the week two different people (not from our group) were talking to the teens and used verses from that passage.
  • As the missionaries who came to speak to us on Friday said, you don't always have to know everything to know that God is calling you to the field and you just need to say "yes".
  • I loved seeing some new friendships form among the teens, and older ones repaired.
  • When it comes to our egos, there are two dangerous extremes: being too proud in your accomplishments without acknowledging God, and being too depressed in your failures without acknowledging God.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The 10 Commandments - Texted

My friend Stacy posted this, which I thought was amusing enough to pass along.

What if God texted the 10 Commandments? They'd probably look like this:

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.
2. dnt wrshp pix/idols
3. no omg’s
4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)
5. pos ok - ur m&d r cool
6. dnt kill ppl
7. :-X only w/ m8
8. dnt steal
9. dnt lie re: bf
10. dnt ogle ur bf’s m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.

M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.

ttyl, YHWH

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Father's Day

One of the most interesting things I've discovered in my walk with God is that He gives us relationships here on earth to teach us about our relationship with Him. The more we understand about friendship, marriage, leadership, subservience, etc. -- the more we learn about how God views us and relates to us.

I'm only scratching the surface right now when it comes to fatherhood, and how my experiences with my son are teaching me about my heavenly Father and how he sees me, but I've had a few thoughts:
  • I've often asked the question, "Why would God intentionally create a being that He knew would rebel, reject and scorn him?" And I now look at my son and know that, in all probability, he will rebel against me at some point, hate me and try to distance himself from me. But the answer to my question is revealed in this: we create because the potential for love reciprocated is far greater than the fear of eternal rebellion.
  • Selfless love -- Jeremiah can't give anything back to me, at least not intentionally. He is incredibly self-centered ("gimme gimme, I need, I need"), and my role is to provide for him and love him unconditionally. God loves us too unconditionally, and provides for us even when we're too wrapped up in ourselves.
  • Dependence -- Without his mother and I, Jeremiah would perish. He is literally unable to take care of himself, to strike out on his own and to be fulfilled. His very existence depends on us, and he clings to us because of it. We are his world entire. When he grows up, our role will shrink and shrink, but that's not the case with us and God -- we are always 100% dependent on Him, unable to provide for ourselves what we truly need.
  • Patience - Every day I can't help but wonder what kind of man he's going to grow up to be... what he'll look like... whether he'll have my eyes or his mother's... what kind of personality he'll hold. And most importantly, whether he will accept Christ or not. I would breathe a lot easier if I could come back from the future to tell myself that everything, indeed, worked out okay. But instead, I must be patient, and trust in God and His plan -- just as He is patient with us, watching us develop and His plan unfold, step by step.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Our Cry

"My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 84:2)

Crying is a topic that's been on my mind more often than not these days. When you have a newborn baby in the house, that comes with the territory.

Babies aren't born with any ability to communicate beyond crying. It's all they know how to do, and they do it prodigiously -- crying to signal hunger, or a messy diaper, or the need to be held, or even just over-stimulation. Everybody likes to laugh at new parents who tear their hair out trying to figure out what the squirt is crying over at any given point, until you are the new parents, and you gain a wholesale appreciation of what your mother and father went through.

My son came out of the womb with a Ph.D. in crying; he doesn't do it halfway, he takes it to a professional level. The cries start with grudging, half-hearted noises... sort of a car revving up the engine. Then there's the long, low wail... "pay attention to me!" This is followed by a symphony of shrieks and noises of extreme displeasure, one after another with only a quick breath in between. If he really gets worked up, he can turn his face red and rattle the ceiling with cries that are designed to reach into my spinal column and jar it severely.

So, I think about crying (not crying myself, although at times that is an attractive option), but the basic need behind a cry. We take for granted all of the times that the Bible tells us about so-and-so "crying out" to God: the Hebrews in Egypt crying out for freedom... the Israelites crying out for victory over the Philistines... Job crying out in agony... the Psalmist crying his heart out... unrepentant sinners crying out because of the consequences of their actions... the mother crying out to Jesus to save her daughter from demon possession... even Christ himself crying out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

They cry to God because of a strong need, a need to be heard, to be helped, to be saved, to be comforted. And if their hearts are repentant, God responds -- He hears us (Exodus 22:23), He brings justice (Luke 18:7), He consoles (Luke 7:13), He fulfills our purpose (Psalm 57:2), He grants us understanding (Proverbs 2:3)... and He delivers us (Isaiah 19:20).

There's something basically honest in a cry. It can't be faked, not when it comes from the heart. It says, "I need! I need!" But it also says, "Only you can give me this, and I put my trust in you for it!" When we cry out to Jesus, we are excluding other gods, other rescuers, other sources of hope. We put our chips all into one basket, belief without compromise. Only Jesus can hear our cry and answer it fully.

Right now, many desperate people in our country are crying out for rescue and deliverance, from finances and terrorism and whatnot. Like the Israelites once did, the country is looking to our own leaders to answer their cry, but that puts hope in a faulty proposition. God will leave us to our mistaken hope, if we choose it -- but if we ever get sick of disappointment, then we may fall to our knees, lift our heads up, and cry out, "Save me!" to the only one who truly can.

My son cries because he needs me and his mother -- he cannot have it any other way. Why should our attitude toward God be any different?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A few months ago I read a neat article about this dad who decided he wanted to create an heirloom for his children. So when each of his four kids was born, he'd go out and buy a Bible, and then devote himself to reading it cover to cover over the next 18 years -- marking it up, taking notes, underlining good verses. Four kids, four Bibles. On their 18th birthday, he'd give them the Bible for their own, hopefully to continue the tradition and one day give to their own child.

I liked that idea, for more than one reason. Personally, I've never read the Bible cover-to-cover, although I have digested large chunks of it. A pastor should read the whole Bible, right? So there's that. And my desperate prayer to God over the past week is that Jeremiah grows up to be a man after God's own heart. A man who avoids the weaknesses and mistakes I've made and becomes something better. I want him to cling to God, to be a strong witness, to crave that relationship. I'm terrified I won't be up to the task of raising him right in that way, that my own faulty nature will be less-than-ideal as a role model for his spiritual life.

So I bought a Bible, started reading, started marking it up. God's a better role model in the end, after all. I want him to read it years from now and see my notes, connect with me in some way, and know that being a Christian for me isn't a hobby but who I am. I hope this heirloom will be complete for him on his 18th, and that he will take it eagerly instead of reluctantly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jeremiah: Sent By God

Back in August 2008 when my wife told me that she was pregnant with our first child, we had a rough couple of weeks where we fussed and debated and argued and contemplated and fought for our favorite names. She and I have very different tastes when it comes to what we think are cool names (hey, Oz *is* a cool name!), so we settled on the first name that pleased us both for a boy: Jeremiah.

It means "Sent by God", most famously in reference to the great prophet of the Old Testament. Our Jeremiah was sent by God to us yesterday, April 20, and he burst into this world quickly, loudly and triumphantly. I'm perhaps more sappy than my wife, so my tears couldn't stop coming -- this was my son, no small miracle that will take our life in a bold new direction. From his namesake's book, God says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1:5) That's what I told him this morning, that our Lord knew him from the beginning of time and before, and prepared him to come into this world at the right moment, for a specific purpose in his plan. I'm eager to discover what that purpose may be, and I gave my solemn promise to raise Jeremiah to know the Lord as well as he knows us.

One of my online friends said that they looked up Jeremiah 1:19 -- because he was born at 1:19pm -- and it gives this great testimonial: "'They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,' declares the LORD." I know he's going to have hardships and trails and pain in his life, and while I'll try to help and protect in any way I can, ultimately I have to lift him up to God for the Almighty's protection and wisdom.

It's a good day to be blessed, for sure.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Inner Beauty

Susan Boyle rocked the world recently with an incredible performance on Britain's version of American Idol. A great singer is a dime a dozen on these shows, but what made this story electric is that, for lack of a better way to put it, Susan is not what most people would consider beautiful or attractive. Watch this clip and observe the reactions of everyone around her:

At first they patronize her, and you can literally see the "eckkk" on Simon's face as she comes out. She's ugly. This will just be sad. She's the poster child for anti-beauty, someone no one would typically look at twice.

And then she sings.

Watch the faces of everyone in the audience, the judges, the back stage guys. They are just floored. In a matter of seconds, their perception of beauty is turned on its ear as she fills the room with her amazing voice. She gets a standing ovation, including from one of the judges.

I got chills from this, because this is exactly how God operates through all history. He uses the weak things to shame the strong, the ugly to shame the beautiful. He places a higher worth on inner beauty, talent and giving than all of the surface vanity that we can boast. Everyone in his eyes has tremendous value, even those who are 47 and never been kissed.

This is why we reject the world and embrace Christ. The world says that ugly people can only do ugly things; that the fat, the losers, the geeks, the average are just useless. The world pants after an unrealistic, shallow definition of beauty without ever considering the whole picture. Christ always considers the entire person and loves them completely, fully, wholly. He made Susan, he made me, and he made you, and he gave each of us very beautiful aspects to share with the world.